Chris Christie tries to stop commercial flights from Newark to Cuba

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appears to be resurrecting the debate over rapprochement with Cuba, though whether this is part of his presidential campaign strategy or not remains to be seen. As the major airlines prepare to take advantage of Barack Obama’s generosity toward the communist nation, the Governor is telling the carriers that he doesn’t want any flights going from his state to Havana until Castro sends back a cop killer who has been hiding there for decades. (Fox News)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has told the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to reject any flight routes between Newark and Cuba until a woman convicted of killing a state trooper is extradited to the U.S. – though one airline says it plans to push ahead anyway.

The Republican governor and presidential candidate sent a letter to the bistate agency Tuesday urging them to reject any regular flight routes between Newark Liberty International Airport and Cuba until Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, is returned to the U.S.

“It is unacceptable to me as Governor to have any flights between New Jersey and Cuba until and unless convicted cop-killer and escaped fugitive Joanne Chesimard is returned to New Jersey to face justice,” Christie wrote in the letter obtained by The Associated Press.

“I will not tolerate rewarding the Cuban government for continuing to harbor a fugitive,” he said.

Christie may not want to “tolerate” it, but it’s unclear what he can actually do to stop them. The FAA has control over such decisions as far as I know, and while the Governor can make requests of the airlines I’m not seeing anything that actually gives him the authority to stop them short of shutting down the entire Newark Airport. The airlines seem to feel the same way because United is planning on “looking into the matter” and issuing a response within the week, but they’re still gearing up to take advantage of the business opportunity.

Christie’s anger is completely understandable. For those who don’t recall, 68 year old Joanne Chesimard (who also goes by Assata Olugbala Shakur) was a member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army back in the 70s. In 1973 she murdered NJ State Trooper Werner Foerster during a gunfight on the New Jersey Turnpike and was charged with a laundry list of other crimes including attempted murder, armed robbery, bank robbery, and kidnapping over the course of her various escapades. She was sent to prison but escaped in 1979, fleeing to Cuba in the early 80s where she was granted asylum from Castro’s government.

Governor Christie has every right to be upset. If Cuba wants to come back into the international community as a member in good standing and profit from more open relations with the United States they should absolutely cooperate in our law enforcement efforts. That still seems unlikely in the extreme, but it’s a point worth making. And yet, as I said above, if this is something Christie actually has the power to do I can’t wait to hear the explanation as to how he will manage it and under what authority.

The title of this article was changed from “domestic flights” to “commercial flights” because the author shouldn’t attempt to write before having coffee.